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A Reader of Fictions: November 2011

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Giveaways: Machen & Lovecraft

Enter to win:

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft

and

The Weird People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen




Anyone looking for some scary reads for the winter, some gifts for people who love horror stories or some classic tales, should definitely consider entering to win one or both of these books. I have not read Machen's book, but I just read and reviewed the Lovecraft collection.

The rules:
You do not have to be a follower to enter the giveaway.
USA only, because I'm shipping these myself and I am poor.
Enter by December 11 at 5 PM.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Brain from Young Frankenstein: The Musical

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

Author: H. P. Lovecraft
Pages: 360 (followed by 60 pages of notes)
Review Copy Acquired from: Penguin Classics

The short stories of Lovecraft, at least the ones in this anthology, all seem to take place in the same universe. The stories have a lot in common with another. For one thing, they all focus on some sort of mythical monster/god/evil creation of a mad scientist / reader of the Necronomicon. Also, if one were narrating them, it would be really difficult to resist the urge to end the telling of each with DUN-DUN-DUN.

At first, I really was not feeling this at all. Lovecraft's writing is very flowery and ornate, which I felt did not lend itself particularly well to tales of horror. All of the extra information and verbiage lessened any sense of urgency that the stories were trying to convey. As I became more familiar with his narrative style and realized the connections underlying each story, I found myself coming to enjoy the stories.

These tales are often hugely unsurprising in their final twists. The plot lines herein will be familiar to most people who have ever watched a horror film or read a horror story. At first, this irritated me, but this too turned to some amount of fascination when I considered that they were probably fairly original plot lines then. He may have originated some of these ideas, which is pretty cool.

While this will not be for everyone, I definitely think that anyone who really liked Mary Shelley's Frankenstein will adore this, as it was clearly a huge influence upon him. Plus, the cover on this edition is completely gorgeous, even if I doubt Cthulhu would actually look like that.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pretty Women - Johnny Depp & Alan Rickman

Bel Ami

Author: Guy de Maupassant
Narrator: John McDonough
Duration: 14 hrs, 41 min
Publisher: Recorded Books

Bel Ami tells the story of Georges Duroy, a man with a magnificent mustache and a desire for advancement and women. Throughout the novel, he attempts to obtain these things, using his incredibly seductive mustache. This is not a joke. Oh how I wish it was.

I seriously hated this novel, which I listened to in audiobook form. Almost from the first, I wanted nothing more than to punch this smarmy French bastard in the face. He is an incredibly awful person and has absolutely zero respect for women. Actually, I think this book should have been subtitled "Monsieur Mustache Seduces Every Woman of His Acquaintance." Why? Because he really does. He beds every female character with more than a couple of lines. The end result of his great success is to categorize all women as whores. Thank you so much for writing this Guy de Maupassant. Womenkind is so grateful.

On top of that, all of these relationships, with the exception of one (which involves seducing the daughter of a mother he seduced), involves adultery. I know that there is a fine French tradition of viewing adulterous relationships as the home of real love, but this isn't the time period of Chretien de Troyes. All of these people are completely awful and unlike other bits of pop culture (like Mad Men) with only terrible characters, these are not even interesting. I don't give a damn about how good anyone is at playing cup and ball, of which there are numerous descriptions.

The audiobook itself was pretty awful as well, I thought. For one thing, the editing does not seem to have been done very well, as the narrator's deep, rattly breaths are often audible. Speaking of which, McDonough does not make a satisfying narrator for this particular story. The book is about a young, attractive man, skilled in seduction, which means that an old man with gasping breaths that make him sound close to death may not be the ideal choice for a narrator. This is not to say that McDonough could not be an excellent narrator for another book that was better edited, but he was not the right choice for Bel Ami.

P.S. Today's song captures the creepiness of Duroy's treatment of women, his tendency to idolize them and take advantage of them. It also recalled the seen where Madame Walter tied her hair around his buttons.

"Blowing out their candles or
Combing out their hair,
Combing out their hair then they leave
Even when they leave you and vanish they somehow can still can remain there with you
Even when they leave
They still are there.
They're there
Ah! Pretty women"

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Down to Earth - Barenaked Ladies

The Dig
Zoe and Zeus Trilogy, Book 1

Author: Audrey Hart
Pages: 207
Review Copy Acquired from: Backlit Fiction & Audrey Hart

Brief Summary:
Zoe spends every summer at archaeological sites with her Aunt and Uncle, who have taken care of her during her breaks from boarding school ever since her parents died in a plane crash. Although her only real friend and roommate totally doesn't get how anyone could enjoy being stuck in a boring, dusty place all summer without any hot guys, Zoe loves going to the digs and hates all the typical teen stuff. This year, the site is Greece, which is pretty awesome, especially since they found this awesome old temple. Of course, she didn't plan on sneaking off alone, finding a giant iPhone, traveling back in time and becoming a God. This is sure to be one crazy summer.

Review:
My reactions to this book were really mixed. I loved the concept quite a bit and the writing wasn't too bad. The sense of humor that shows through at certain parts was also quite excellent. Unfortunately, there were also some aspects that really didn't work for me, including the sickeningly and terrifyingly quick romantic relationship between Zoe and Zeus.

Putting aside the giant iPhone that was apparently built in ancient Greece (I really hope this gets explained in a later installment), I loved the whole time travel thing and the fact that there were Greek Gods running around. These are things that make for an excellent premise, especially when some humor is added in. Certain books can't take themselves too seriously or they're not going to work out right. Hart did a great job with that at the outset.

What really frustrated me about this story can be boiled down to two different factors. First is the mythology. Hart is doing what has been done with so many other topics and reimagining the Greek gods. This has been done, of course, but it's pretty safe to say that her envisioning is original. I'll definitely give her that. Unfortunately, I had trouble buying into it. For one thing, there are only 12 gods on Olympus. Where's everyone else, like Hephaestus, the guy who was actually with Aphrodite? Plus, she's matched them all up into couples like a CW show (and they all stopped aging at 17 and are gorgeous). And, to do so, she had to change Hermes' gender to female. Why not just let there be a gay couple? I would give her props for that. Also, can we really ignore the fact that Zeus was a serious womanizer and that sometimes he raped women in animal form (ex. Leda and the Swan). This can be rectified with explanations of how his image changed in history, but it's really hard for me to get past thinking of him that way.

The second thing, which is even tougher for me, is that Zoe does not seem at all a consistent character. The Zoe of the beginning chapters is a loner and happy about it; she only vaguely cares about dressing up or boyfriends or what people think about her. Then, as soon as she meets a cute boy, she can think of nothing but those things. I liked the fairly confident, unique girl she was in the beginning, not the hair-flipping, mindless, immediately in love, Zeus-obsessed girl she became. This too could be rectified in the next installment. Perhaps after the honeymoon phase of their relationship, she will recover her normal personality. I hope so.

Obviously, I did have some concerns about the novel. However, I do imagine that it will be quite popular with teen readers and it is certainly better than some of the teen fare I have read in a similar vein. Also, if the CW doesn't pick this up for their lineup, they are missing out.

"Hey now, wake up
And lose the makeup
She makes you wanna know her
When you don't know what it's worth
Now you really wanna show her
How she's just so down to Earth"

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Kreutzer Sonata - Beethoven

Tolstoy:
A Russian Life

Author: Rosamund Bartlett
Pages: 454 (plus a hundred or so more in notes/bibliography)
ARC Acquired from:

As a history major in undergrad, I have some familiarity with history books such as this one. Many of them are painfully dry and dishearteningly long. Thankfully, since I was reading this for fun and not with the threat of a test to push me through, Bartlett's tome, while long (which is to be expected given the subject matter), proved to be pretty readable.

That is not to say, of course, that it was a speedy read. It was not, at least not for me. However, Bartlett is a good writer and she conveyed information in a logical order, something one does not always find in such books. Plus, Tolstoy's a pretty interesting guy to read about, even if he was a bit of a jerk (ex. his treatment of his wife, who was pregnant all the time from their marriage until she pretty much couldn't have kids anymore). Did you know his belief in nonviolent resistance was an inspiration to Gandhi? And that he was a huge proponent of vegetarianism?

Looking at this in terms of how useful it would be for a paper, I would give it pretty high marks, since, as previously mentioned, it is both well-written and a wealth of information. The one drawback I see is the construction of the chapters, many of which cover a couple different aspects of his life. For example, one chapter is entitled "Student, Teacher, Father" and another is "Landowner, Gambler, Officer, Writer." Honestly, I think it would have been better to break these up into their own chapters, since there tended to be a pretty obvious switch from one of the subjects to the next. This would serve two purposes: shortening the chapters and making it easier to locate what you're looking for in the text. Really long chapters are both depressing to a student and make it really hard to go back and locate that one quote that is crucial to proving your thesis.

Despite that, I would consider this a pretty awesome choice for your learning-about-Tolstoy needs, be they self-motivated or required for class.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ghost - Neutral Milk Hotel

In Search of the Rose Notes

Author: Emily Arsenault
Pages: 384
ARC Acquired from: Avon via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Nora hasn't been back to Waverly since she left for college. She kept up with her childhood friend, Charlotte, but otherwise there's nothing she wants to remember from Waverly. One day, Charlotte informs Nora that the body of their childhood babysitter, Rose, who went missing during her junior year, has been found. Her bones appeared near a local pond, clearly having been moved from somewhere else. Rose's disappearance had a huge impact on Nora, so this discovery compels her to go back to Waverly and learn what she can.

Review:
When I started this book, I really had no idea what it was about or what to expect. I requested it ages ago and have only just gotten around to reading it (obviously). Well, I was completely blown away. I didn't have high expectations, but the book kept drawing me in. The writing and the narrative style were utterly captivating.

The narrative alternates between Nora's present (2006) and her past (1996). This gives a good view into what happened then, along with the knowledge only a grown up can bring to the situation. The story lines from her childhood dovetail perfectly with the present happenings.

While the whole book has a spooky feel to it, there is little of the horrible in it. Mostly, the book just left me thinking about how fragile people are and what a huge impact actions can have. This is one of those books that I find myself having difficulty explaining, because I was more caught up in the beauty of the writing and the fascination of the relationships between people than something particularly dramatic in the tale, and those that I could relate would be spoilers.

Anyway, I heartily recommend this to anyone interested in ghosts, mysteries, or the difficulty in considering the events of youth from a mature perspective. This was a truly beautiful and tragic story.

P.S. I had trouble finding a song for this one, but I went with this one both because it references Charlotte's childhood fascination with the paranormal and because Nora mentioned being a fan of Neutral Milk Hotel.

"Ghost, ghost I know you live within me
Feel as you fly
In thunderclouds above the city"

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Let Me Live - Queen

You're (Not) the One

Author: Alexandra Potter
Pages: 371
ARC Acquired from: Penguin via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Ten years ago, during her student days, Lucy Hemmingway took a trip to Venice and fell in love with an American student studying abroad there. Their time together was magical and, when they parted, they kissed under the Bridge of Sighs while bells rang, in an aim to fulfill an old legend which would mean that they would be together forever. Of course, this is real life, so Nate married someone else and Lucy, now living in New York (rather than her native London) is still single and hung up on Nate, who she believes was The One. Then, they meet by chance and fall in love all over again. And promptly fall out of love again. Only the legend will not let them part. What do you do when the One just won't leave?

Review:
When I was in high school, I just ate up chick lit. I read pretty much any chick lit novel I could get my hands on, and loved most of them. I envied the romance, the sex, the adventures, and liked to pretend I would get to experience such things some day. As I got older, though, I found that I no longer had a taste for such unrealistic plot lines, which just help to feed high expectations and disappointment with the real world.

You're (Not) the One is about as unrealistic as they come, but in the very best way possible. This definitely falls into the category of chick lit novels that rock, even to my older, more critical eye. For one thing, the whole story is delightfully tongue in cheek. Everything is over the top and poking fun at itself. Plus, the whole theme is that sometimes you do get it wrong. Love at first sight does happen here, but it turns out to be a different kind of love, not the good kind. It also doesn't hurt that Lucy is British. I just love the lingo.

This novel definitely has a bit of a Sarah Addison Allen type feel to it, as it has some very light, subtle, adorable magical realism woven throughout. I loved the way the Legend of the Bridge of Sighs functioned in the story and how it all played out. The legend chases Nate and Lucy in incredibly hilarious ways, like jukeboxes and facebook. Really the only thing/person I did not like was Nate, which is okay, because the title tells you right from the beginning that he's not going to work out.

Chick lit is not for everyone, but if you're willing to give it a go, this is definitely an excellent one. Recommended to fans of reading about real life, only with a dash of magic thrown in.

"So let me live (so let me live)
Let me live (leave me alone)
Let me live, oh baby
And make a brand new start"

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pleasant Valley Sunday - The Monkees

Babbitt

Author: Sinclair Lewis
Narrator: David Colacci
Duration: 13 hours, 52 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Audio

Brief Summary:
George F. Babbit works as a realtor and dislikes everyone in his family, except for his youngest child (three kids- two girls and one boy), Tinka. He lives for status, his lunches at the athletic clubs, making money and being recognized as important by his peers. Babbitt is middle-aged, opinionated and a pillar of the community. His life is thrown into chaos when his best friend and biggest admirer begins acting in a way not allowable in their social set.

Review:
That's a summary of sorts, although I don't think too much of it. For the most part, this is a book about an 48 year old grump's midlife crisis. I hated every single minute of this story. George F. Babbitt struck me as wholly offensive and obnoxious from the very first and he only got worse. While I know, on one level, that this is probably to make a point, I cannot accept that he never gets a comeuppance for being an idiotic jerk. He constantly espouses viewpoints as his own, even though he's simply repeating what he has heard or read in the newspaper.

Once again, I listened to an audiobook. It's hard for me to say whether it was a good performance of the novel or not, since I so hated the novel itself. From the first, I really wanted to punch Colacci in the face to make him stop talking. His voice is grating and annoying. This inclines me to say that thus this is not a great audiobook, but, still, such a voice does fit perfectly with the truly awful people in the story. I do imagine that Babbitt sounds exactly like that.

A more fair criticism of the performance than my personally not liking the sound of Colacci's voice is that it was often difficult to tell the characters apart. During conversations, I really could not follow who was speaking, unless there was some sort of note as to who said what. One conversation between Paul Riesling and Babbitt, for example, left me unsure as to whose wife was being annoying and who was praising whom. Surprisingly, though, this gruff-voiced man did a really good job with the female voices, although, again, they all sounded pretty similar. Of course, the women never really have a conversation, so that didn't matter much.

Pretty much the only interesting thing in this novel is the setting (1920s), but I would recommend getting that from An American Tragedy instead, which has some really strange parallels. Babbitt is repetitive (he constantly mentions his desire to quit smoking and then forgets and then announces he'll do it this time and then...) and obnoxious (Babbitt spends the first half of the novel being sanctimonious about things and behavior, then goes and does all those things and is sanctimonious about those that judge him for it). If that's your thing, then go for it.

P.S. The joke's on me, since I already own another book by Sinclair Lewis. The question is: will I read it or just sell it to a used book store now?

"Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don't understand

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery"

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Father - Cat Stevens

Away
The Line, Book 2

Author: Teri Hall
Pages: 234
Publisher: Dial Books

I read the first book in this series, The Line, a couple of years ago over spring break. Although a little slow moving at the beginning, I thought, at the time, that it had some promise, that it was doing some interesting things that intrigued me and made me want to give the second book a chance. So here I am.

Unfortunately, I do not feel any sort of a connection to this book. Away bored me from the beginning to the end. The cool elements, like the powers some of the Others have, are largely ignored, and the ones that get used to any fairly significant degree are lame.

The writing, too, was utterly uninspiring. I suppose it must have been in the first one too, but being less entertained this time, I could not help noticing it now. The simplistic nature of the writing might make this a good book for reluctant readers that do not like too much action in their books. If you like the works of Lisa McMann, you might like Teri Hall's fairly sparse writing style.

To be completely fair to Away, I have only the vaguest memories of The Line, so maybe I have forgotten something crucial to the enjoyment of the second book. Whatever the case, it's safe to say that I will not be returning for the next installment.

"Father, oh father
You give me just a little hope

I feel something out there reaching for me

Well, here I am

Won't you take me with you

Out of this maze

And away from this place?"

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Geek Girl Blog Tour & Giveaway



Hey all, I am taking part in the Geek Girl blog tour! Check out my previous post for a review of the book (which I quite enjoyed btw). Check out Cindy C. Bennett's website.

Additionally, I am thrilled to announce that Cedar Fort has offered a copy of this fun book for one of my readers. Get excited, guys! The giveaway is open internationally. If someone from a country outside North America wins, he/she will receive an ebook of the novel. North Americans will receive a hard copy. The giveaway is open until November 30 at 5 PM EST.

To enter, simply comment on this post with your favorite sci fi film, novel or tv show; Jen and myself will surely appreciate the recommendations. Make sure to add your email in this format: name (at) email (dot) com.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Geek Stink Breath - Green Day

Geek Girl

Author: Cindy C. Bennett
Pages: 280
ARC Acquired from: Cedar Fort via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Out of a combination of boredom and a need for something interesting to do, Jen makes a bet with her friends that she can turn one of the school geeks, Trevor, into a bad boy. When she first approaches him, he is completely blown away; it's not every day a goth girl says 'hi' to a nerd. At first, she seems to be making really good progress, only she finds herself liking him way too much. Worst of all, even though he makes her happy, she knows there's no way she, a foster child with a history of abuse and being unwanted, could ever be good enough for him.

Review:
On the one hand, you totally know what you're going to get with this book. The formula's definitely been done; if you don't believe me, go watch She's All That and then imagine it with reversed gender roles (or even Drive Me Crazy, and skip the role reversal). On the other hand, though, I think Bennett has done a really good job of making a pretty trite formula into a really great read.

Unlike the movies I mentioned, Jen has a reason for being the way that she is. Her childhood was completely awful and she has used drugs, alcohol, makeup and acting out as a way of escaping her pain. Watching her grow and overcome her past throughout the novel is exceedingly touching. I couldn't help but root for her as she managed to shed her skin and learned about happiness. Plus, Jen had a really authentic voice; she really seemed to think like a teenager.

Another addition that Bennett made to the story was placing the dramatic reveal at the center of the story. What I mean by that is that the inevitable scene wherein her treachery is revealed and the relationship ends comes much earlier in the plot line than usual. This allows for a more realistic timeline for the relationship to recover or not.

Of course, what I really liked about the book was the nerdiness. There are a ton of sci fi references to just about every nerdy sci fi thing you can imagine. Needless to say, each one gave me my own geeky glee, even if it was something I haven't watched yet. Additionally, I loved Trevor. Where's my fit, wonderful nerd boy? Seriously, he's amazing, and a much better kind of guy for teenage girls to be reading about and wanting than an Edward or a Jacob.

So, if you like that old formula, and want to read about some geeky references and a troubled girl learning how to have a real, happy future, look no further. I definitely recommend this!

"I'm on a mission
I made my decision
To lead a path of self destruction"

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Firestarter - Jimmy Eat World

Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Promise, Part 1


Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Gurihiru
Pages: 76
ARC Acquired from: Dark Horse Books via NetGalley

For those who don't know, there's going to be another Avatar television, featuring Aang's granddaughter, the new avatar. This is the first in a series of graphic novels that will connect (in some fashion...I'm not sure whether the whole span of time will be covered or not) the old show with the new one.

This volume focuses on Zuko in his new role as leader of the fire kingdom. He fears that one day he will become like his father, a terrifying despot bent on world domination, so he forces Aang to promise to kill him, should that be the case. Will this be necessary? Will Aang have the stones to follow through if it is?

The first 15 pages of the story summarize the plot of the show (3 seasons in 15 pages...right), mostly by using the intro of the show. Much is made of Aang and Katara as a couple, but I still don't buy it. Like Sokka, the whole thing gives me the oogies. Zukatara all the way!

The rest of the tale talks about the first issue to come up in world politics after the change in power: the Fire Kingdom colonies in the Earth Kingdom. The people of the Earth Kingdom want them gone, but some of them do not want to go, because they have lived there for over a century. Can this be sorted out without war?

So far, I'm definitely digging getting more Avatar. However, I have to say that I think the fact that the volume consists of only 80 pages is seriously lame. More next time, guys!

"I'm a twisted firestarter"

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Hit That - The Offspring

A Man of Parts

Author: David Lodge
Pages: 432
Review Copy Acquired from: Penguin

A Man of Parts is a fictional biography of author H.G. Wells. I did not go into this book knowing anything about H.G. Wells, except for his having written quite a few novels and his being one of the founders of the genre of science fiction. Given that, I cannot assert with complete assurance that the events related in Lodge's book are all faithful representations of the author's life, but I suspect they are. The extensive acknowledgements certainly suggest that Lodge did his research before writing the book, not that I would expect less.

Why, then, is this written as a novel, rather than a biography? My suspicion is that it is simply much more fun to write historical fiction than a strictly correct biography. Why? Because, had he written this as nonfiction, he would have been unable to put words into the mouths of the characters, and would have had to rely solely on, instead, the literature, letters and speeches of Wells. While that does a lot, it does not give the same freedom that the label of fiction does.


His Novels Were as Plentiful as His Mustache

This is my second experience with David Lodge, although my only successful one, as I gave up on the first book of The Campus Trilogy quite swiftly. I found the opening pages not at all to my liking and decided to move on. Lured by the interesting subject matter here, I could not resist requesting a copy of A Man of Parts. Thankfully, I found myself much more drawn to the book than I ever expected. The writing is excellent and what I learned completely shocking. Impressed by this one, I will definitely be giving The Campus Trilogy another go, especially since Penguin was kind enough to give me the new, completely gorgeous edition containing the whole of the trilogy with this book.

You may wonder why I found the contents of the novel so entirely shocking. That's because it turns out that H.G. Wells was one heck of a horndog. Seriously. He spent all of his time that was not devoted to writing pursuing sexual intercourse with various ladies, most of whom were many years his junior. Many of these sexual partners were authors like himself.


This Is the Face of a Man That Makes B*tches Crazy

Honestly, the descriptions of Wells' social life and his completely nutty (and hypocritical) opinions on sexual relations were the most intriguing part of the book. Wells espoused a belief in free love, although he did (mostly) attempt to only sleep with women he cared for, although, given the opportunity, any relatively good looking woman would do. (On one occasion, he even slept with a woman with a shriveled hand.)


Author Elizabeth Von Arnim - He Tapped That

At the same time, Wells fervently believed in the institution of marriage. He married twice (the first, which was to his cousin by the way, ended in divorce, since he wanted to marry his second wife, Jane). Both marriages were passionless, which increased his straying. Jane seems to have been okay with it, although certainly not thrilled. I imagine she was not as pleased with the arrangement as Wells seems to have believed. Despite his constant straying, Wells was remarkably constant to Jane, and never really wanted to leave her. Of course, his affairs also had other consequences, like babies and scandal. It's funny how this is never the part of history that you get to learn about in school.


Amber Reeves and Wells' Love Child #1

Lodge largely uses a pretty straightforward narrative style (third person, mostly following Wells' viewpoint). However, he occasionally switches to a very strange style, wherein H.G. Wells responds to some sort of interviewer. I'm not entirely sure what to make of these sections, but they did tend to be fascinating, since the voice really liked to probe Wells about the subjects he least wished to discuss. I suspect that this was either employed solely as a narrative device or, perhaps more likely, was used to depict Wells' dementia at the end of his life, as he tried to account for his behavior.


Author Rebecca West - That Too

While I did enjoy the novel, I will warn that it is not an especially quick read, or, at least, it was not for me. Nonetheless, I found it to be well worth the time, and, if you ever want to have your illusions of a classical author shattered, this is definitely the way to go.

"He said 'Now I'm on a roll
With all the girls I know'
His baby mama
She ain't so slow
He said 'Now I'm on a roll
With all the girls I know'
I know you wanna hit that
I know you wanna hit that, hit that
All of the world
Is getting way past me
Consequences are a lost party
That's the way
That's the way things go"

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Be True to Your School - The Beach Boys

Also Known as Rowan Pohi

Author:
Ralph Fletcher
Pages: 199
ARC Acquired from: Clarion Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Bobby Steele and his two best friends always hang out at IHOP, the only restaurant in town where the waitstaff doesn't mind if you just buy a drink but stay for hours. The three of them are students at Riverview, the local public high school. Also frequent patrons of the IHOP are the Stoneys, students of prestigious Whitestone Academy. When Bobby and hid buds find an application to Whitestone on an IHOP table, they decide it would be funny to send in an application for an imaginary student. They do so, creating Rowan Ian Pohi (IHOP backwards), and then mostly forget about the prank, little expecting him to get it...only he does. Things get really crazy when Bobby decides to become Rowan.

Review:
It took me a while to get into this brief novel. Honestly, I was not amused by the antics of Bobby and his friends; I really don't see what's so funny about submitting a faked application to the local private high school. Plus, while I feel bad for Bobby's bad home life (father infamous for having once attacked their mother with an iron, after which she split and has not been heard from since), I wasn't too invested in it. Once he assumed the identity of Rowan Pohi, though, the story, and his life, really took off.

Of course, I want to say right now that nothing about this story is remotely believable, despite this being realistic fiction. For one thing, they would not have accepted Rowan without transcripts. Paperwork is what makes the modern world function; this is not the age where people can easily escape themselves. Also, repeated mention was made of the fact that Whitestone Academy has a rifle range. What the hell kind of high school has a rifle range? That's just asking for a lawsuit. On top of that, there is no way at all that a private school possessed of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, amazing food, a 5:1 teacher student ratio, a rifle range and a brand new planetarium would cost only $5,000 dollars a semester. I know people who send their children to private school and it costs more than that without all of those extras.

Suspending this disbelief, though, this is a pretty fun middle grade caper. It's interesting to see how he blends into the school, and I couldn't help being glad that he got to go there, since he clearly has so much more potential than his high school would ever be able to make use of. Fletcher also made some interesting observations on spousal abuse and persecution, despite not focusing on those points too heavily.

Also Known as Rowan Pohi could be a good read for reluctant readers, with pretty easy language and a lot of dialogue.

"So be true to your school now
Just like you would to your girl or guy
Be true to your school now
And let your colors fly
Be true to your school"

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bell Boy - The Who

An American Tragedy

Author: Theodore Dreiser
Narrator: Dan John Miller
Duration:
34 hours, 16 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Brief Summary:
Clyde Griffiths' parents are street preachers and from a young age, he resents their lifestyle. He hates being poor and being mocked by the people who walk past. He doesn't see that God is actually working any wonders in their lives. If so, wouldn't they be better? Unlike the rest of his family, Clyde is filled with ambition. He goes out, in his early teens, to get a job. Eventually, he gets work as a bell boy in the swankiest hotel in Kansas City, where the other bell boys introduce him to a lifestyle he never previously knew. This was the beginning of his descent into a life completely unlike that of his parents, one that would end in nothing but tragedy.

Review:
Just a warning to my dear readers. I do not believe I can discuss this book without spoilers, given the fact that it is really long and most of the parts I want to write about come later in the novel. With that said, you may want to not read this review if you don't want the book to be spoilered. The next couple paragraphs will be safe, since they will be a review of the audiobook version.

Confession: For many years, I have judged audiobook listeners as people unwilling to actually read a book. I don't know why. Listening to a book takes way longer than reading it and certainly I would consider someone reading a book or play aloud to me as having 'read' it. I imagine my completely unfair prejudice stems from having disliked the first couple audiobooks I listened to (back in middle school when they were books on tape). After that, I didn't listen to any more until graduate school.

What I would like to announce officially is that audiobooks can be really amazing and can, in point of fact, be better, for some books, than reading it the traditional way would have been. Not having read An American Tragedy, I am still fairly certain this is one such book. Dreiser writes in a style that imitates speech in many instances and that, thus, lends itself well to the audiobook format.

The narrator, Dan John Miller, has a voice that, although it took me a little bit to get used to, fits well with the time period (the 1920s). Apparently, Miller is from Detroit and sings in a gothic country garage band. He also acted in Walk the Line as Luther Perkins. He does a great job of making most of the main characters' voices recognizable and speaks at a good pace. I heard a couple of weirdly pronounced words and some strange accents from some of the smaller characters. Otherwise, he did a great job, and I very much enjoyed his performance.

Now, to the novel itself. I feared that I would absolutely hate this novel, as the only thing I had ever heard about Dreiser was people talking about how completely terrible Sister Carrie is. Thankfully, when I started listening, I found myself really enjoying it, which is good, given that it's a 32 hour audiobook. The novel is composed of four books, all of which are rather different. The first 3/4 of the novel, I really enjoyed, but the last 1/4 was really rough going.

The opening book discusses Clyde's life in Kansas City, from his time with his parents street preaching through the tragic event that compelled him to leave (although he totally was not guilty of a crime in that case, so he should have gone to the police and explained and would have been fine). Learning about 1920s society was fun, such as work as a bell boy. I also really loved reading about how dumb Clyde was in his pursuit of a girl he was completely obsessed with. She didn't like him so much as she liked his pocketbook, and constantly had him buy her things. Poor Clyde just is not very smart.

After fleeing Kansas City, Clyde spends book two trying to figure out what to make of himself. He adopts an alias while he works in Chicago. He escapes life in the hotel industry when he happens across his wealthy uncle, Samuel Griffiths, and is offered a position in his collar factory. Clyde is convinced this will be his chance to enter high society (as high as it gets in Lycurgas, NY) and to advance in his career. When he arrives, though, he finds that his hopes were to high. Although his Uncle did give him a position, he has to start at the very bottom of the totem pole, and he is given no leg up in society. Eventually, he gets a promotion to a management position in a department and, once again, hopes that he will be accepted into society. When this doesn't follow, he begins an affair with one of the women he oversees, Roberta Alden, despite such behavior being strictly forbidden.

In book three (I think...the border between these two is less clear than the others), Clyde finally gets noticed by the upper glass girl he has had a crush on since he first saw her, during the one time he was invited to his Uncle's house for dinner. This Sondra Finchley notices how much he adores her and how attractive he is, and decides to exert her influence to bring him into society, while falling to his charms, despite her parent's warnings not to get too attached. Clyde begins deserting Roberta, now hoping to marry Sondra. About that time, Roberta informs him that she's pregnant. He tries to get her out of it (pills to miscarry, then to find a doctor to perform an abortion), but cannot. Driven to desperation and still determined to marry Sondra, he refuses to marry Roberta, as she insists, and begins to plan to murder her. He does, or doesn't, depending on your point of view (I'll leave some mystery); either way, Roberta ends up drowned in a lake and Clyde is soon tracked down.

The last quarter of the novel covers Clyde's trial, his time on death row (surprise!) and his death bed conversion to Christianity. Told you. Spoilers. But I really wanted to talk about this, because, while the most boring part of the novel, I suspect that this may be Dreiser's ultimate message, one of the evils of capital punishment and the glories of God's redemption. Also interesting was how he chose to end the novel, which is with a scene reminiscent of the beginning. Clyde's parents, his elder sister and her illegitimate son preaching on the street just as they did when he was a child. Does this forebode ill for his nephew?

In honor of the part of the novel, I most enjoyed, I chose a song that encapsulates Clyde's crazy bell boy years. If you're interested in reading this book, I definitely recommend the audiobook version!

"I've got a good job
And I'm newly born.
You should see me dressed up in my uniform.
I work in hotel, all gilt and flash."

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Monday, November 7, 2011

I Didn't Like It But Maybe You Will Giveway #1 - The Pledge

Hello all, I have been thinking about starting a giveaway of this nature for a while. I buy a lot of books and manage to finagle a few more for free. Some of these, I don't much care for myself, but that does not mean that others will not enjoy these books, which is why I will periodically offer giveaways of these titles, hoping to find them loving homes.

For the first book in this category, I present The Pledge. You'll find that the previous post is my review, but you may also want to check out other reviews, like this one by Presenting Lenore.


Normally, I do not like to limit my giveaways in any way, because I resent that when I encounter it. However, I just reached 50 followers and so, in honor of my followers, I am restricting this giveaway to followers only. New followers may, of course, enter. Given my financial situation, I am afraid I can only ship to the US. This giveaway is open until November 20, 2011 at midnight.

Congrats to Nori who won this giveaway!

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Different Names for the Same Thing - Death Cab for Cutie

The Pledge
The Pledge, Book 1

Author: Kimberly Derting
Pages: 321
ARC Acquired from: Simon & Schuster via Presenting Lenore

Brief Summary:
In the country of Ludania, the class you are born into determines pretty much everything about your life: the education you will receive, the clothes you wear, the work you do and even the language(s) you are able to speak and understand. Everyone can speak Englaise, but the lowest class can speak no others. The vendors, the next class up, speak Parshon as well. Each class has its own language that the lower classes cannot understand, nor may lower class people look at a higher class person while they speak a higher class language. The punishment for doing so is death. For some reason, Charlie (short for Charlaina) understands all of the languages, a skill that could get her killed.

Review:
Needless to say, I was really stoked about this book, especially since I got a free ARC from a giveaway through Presenting Lenore. You know me and my undying love for dystopias. Unfortunately, The Pledge did not fulfill my hopes. It had some good parts and some rather obnoxious parts, which I will attempt to enumerate somewhat in this review.

The Good:
A society based on discrepancies in language is a very interesting idea, especially since, in some senses, this has been done in real cultures, such as how Russian royals used to speak in French. Intriguing, too, were the seemingly magical powers possessed by Charlie and the Queen of the realm. Why do only women have the capability to have such powers? I don't know, but, heck yeah, strong women! Actually, one of the few things I really liked about Charlie is that she spoke almost entirely in Englaise, because she didn't see the point of making things hard on people. Why not speak so everyone could understand?

The Bad:
While I liked the language differences, I had trouble accepting that people were incapable of ever learning a language they were not born with. This just isn't how language works so far as I know. Not being allowed to speak an upper crust language, I get, but being incapable of ever learning or speaking it?

Another thing I really didn't like was what transpired in one particular scene. Charlie and her best friend Brooklynn go to an illegal nightclub, despite being underage (woo, doubly illegal!). When let in, they receive hand stamps, much like clubs now have for those below the drinking age, only these are laced with drugs to loosen people up. Charlie feels some ill effects from hers, so she decides to wander around the building and finds a secret hallway. Discovered by a mysterious, vaguely creepy, secretive guy, she lets him put something else on her hand (supposedly to help, but what does she know?!?) and falls asleep trustingly. To be fair, nothing untoward occurred, but I just want to say that no one should ever do this. Charlie is a bad role model!

The Obnoxious:
While the overarching plot had some interesting things going on, the romance running through it was just completely stereotypical YA and barftastic. The words describing any encounter between Charlie and Max are reminiscent of such works as Twilight, Personal Demons, or Hereafter. Here's a sample scene of the two of them, just after their first makeout session: "I was still shaking when I finally turned my head away, ending the kiss. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. My lips felt swollen and raw, and achingly cold in the absence of his" (265). The hardest thing she ever had to do? Really? Come on.

At this juncture, I do not know if I will be trying the sequel; I may have to just to figure out why a sequel needs to exist, as this seems to have wrapped up the existing plot threads. For those of you who enjoy melodramatic teenage romances complete with instalove and some dystopian business, The Pledge will satisfy your every desire.

"The boundaries of language I quietly cursed
And all the different names for the same thing."

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reading Rainbow Theme Song - Tina Fabrique

The Avalon Chronicles, Volume 1:
Once in a Blue Moon

Authors: Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir
Illustrator: Emma Vieceli
Pages:
ARC Acquired from:
Oni Press via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Every night, Aeslin Finn's parents read to her from a story about a magical land called Avalon. They told her tales of the lovely lady Dragon Knight and her love, the prince of the land, and how together they battled against the evil warlord Khrom. After her father died, in rather mysterious circumstances, her mother refused to let her read any more of this series. Then one day while walking home from school, Aeslin and her best friend spot a weird little shop that has never been there before. They enter and Aeslin finds the sequel to the book her parents read her as a child. At home, she opens it, begins to read and disappears into its pages. Avalon is much more real than she ever knew.

Review:
If you've been following along with my blog, you probably already know that I am a huge sucker for books about books, so I loved this right from the beginning. Thank you, authors, for taking Aeslin away from a life of drooling over the vain popular jock and giving her a life of being a badass dragon rider. Well, hopefully, she will be in later volumes, as she's not yet; that, too, is good, though, since it would be weird if she progressed too fast.

The story thus far is very predictable, but I loved it anyway. There's some serious woman power going on in this series, plus magic, dragons, battles and books. For some future drama, I anticipate a possible relationship betwixt Aeslin and a soldier for Khrom. He's so hot that I would support such a terrible idea. Speaking of which, I really liked the illustrations.

One cool feature in here is that you travel from world to world through books. Just as Aeslin read the book about Avalon to travel there, she has to read a book about her life on Earth to travel back to her regular life. I loved this, because it creates a fun duality, wherein both are equally real or one is only a story in a book, only which?

If you enjoy fun, adventure graphic novels, this is definitely a good read. I look forward to reading more of the series. Also, this is my second positive experience with DeFillipis & Weir (I read a couple volumes of Amazing Agent Luna a few years ago), so you may want to keep an eye out for them.

"Butterfly in the sky
I can go twice as high
Take a look
It's in a book"

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

She Was the Prize - Gaelic Storm

Prized
Birthmarked, Book 2

Author: Caragh M. O'Brien
Pages: 356
ARC Acquired from: Roaring Brook Press via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Gaia and her baby sister Maya are saved from the jaws of death (aka the sandy, sandy wasteland) by a man on a horse, who, conveniently, takes them back to the place where her mother and Old Meg wanted her to go in the first place. While this society seems infinitely better than the Enclave on the surface, it too has its...complications. Like the fact that barely any women are being born anymore, meaning that the ratio of men to women is about 1:9. The women are in power, so this is better than it could be, but the men aren't especially pleased either. Will Gaia be able to get along in this society?

Review:
As much as I enjoyed Birthmarked, the first book in the series, I liked this one way better. Or, possibly, I just don't recall the first one well now. Either way, I can tell you that I just ate this up. Were it not for work and social responsibilities, I would not have put it down.

What I love about this series is that O'Brien focuses on topics that are not often tackled in YA novels, like midwifery (which grosses me out, but it's still awesome that there are details) and genetics. Gaia, too, is pretty fantastic, because of her strength, not physically but mentally. Like me, she is a very stubborn woman and that makes her a force to be reckoned with.

Birthmarked had romance, but much less than can be found here. Now, the fact that Gaia has three men interested in her (two of them brothers) could be seen as a big negative for the book. Certainly, the love triangle (square?) plot can get old. However, I think it has been done fairly well. The reason is that it makes much more sense in the context of the story, since Sylum has so few women.

In the Enclave, only Leon ever expressed a romantic interest in Gaia. Most ignored her because of the burn scar on her face. In Sylum, that seems hardly to matter. I found the whole crazy society in Sylum endlessly fascinating. The women essentially have the pick of the men and have complete control. In fact, if a man so much as touches an unmarried man before they are engaged, he can go to prison, because otherwise the women of Sylum would be in serious danger, given the lack of available lady folk.

Even more interesting is the one exception to the women having all the power, which is the 32 Games, wherein the strongest young men play soccer. The begin with two teams of 16 and play until a goal is scored. The winning team divides up into two teams of 8, and so on until only one man remains. That man has his pick of the unmarried women, the Mlasses, to stay with him in the victor's cabin for a month. Supposedly, he's not allowed to get with her, but...come on.

Oh, how much I wish the final book in the trilogy could come out right now!

P.S. I know this song is actually about a guy remembering a woman he loved who died, but I just could not resist the chorus' application to the 32 Games.

"She...she was the prize
The prettiest girl with the loveliest eyes

She...she was the prize

Shiny black hair and those lovely...lovely brown eyes"

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Beware of Darkness - George Harrison

A Wrinkle in Time
Time Quintet, Book 1

Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Pages: 190
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co.

I first read A Wrinkle in Time at some point during my elementary school career, probably for class, although I'm really not sure now. At the time, I was completely blown away by it. My memory of the plot and characters was not completely accurate, even though I believe I reread it sometime in high school as well. Like with The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time is a beloved book from childhood that does not retain all of its majesty when read as an adult.

This is not to say, of course, that it's not an interesting read or a good book, just that some things I didn't notice then I recognize now. For example, there's a definite theology to the book that I missed entirely. The references to God are minimal, but full of impact when they occur. Without doing a careful study, I cannot say precisely what L'Engle's theology is, but I'm not entirely sure that I like it.

Another thing that displeased was the ending. The resolution of the story comes suddenly and was, at least for me, pretty unsatisfying. I do wonder whether that resolution had some effect on J.K. Rowling, because it is in some ways reminiscent of the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Another comparison I was able to make was that the science fiction bits remind me rather of the first book in C.S. Lewis' space trilogy.

What I loved about this book, and still do, was the understanding that intelligence comes in many forms, and that people are not always whom you expect them to be. Meg and Charles Wallace are both considered slow because they do not live the way 'normal' smart people do. Calvin seems normal, but is actually a huge nerd, who, unfortunately, I do not love quite so much now as I did as a child. He was definitely one of my first loves. A Wrinkle in Time urges the reader to think of the world in a new way, and that is fantastic.

Plus, it has dystopian elements. Hurrah! (Should I be cheering for that?) Anyway, the dark thing that is surrounding planets and instilling negative feelings is working on Earth. It's good to know that much of the trouble humans have is actually not our fault, right? Dystopia via giant, evil alien attacker. Sweet. You could maybe also include the planet Camazotz, which is another kind of dystopian society, although one that was in good functioning order.

P.S. I have an old edition of this (not of value or anything) from 1976. It's the kind where the pages are not all set right, so that on some pages the print tilts obviously, on others the paragraphs abut the outer edge of the book, and on others, the worst pages, the text runs into the spine. This makes reading rather difficult and sometimes results in puzzling out portions of words, but, on some level, I find it really charming how each book came out slightly different. It makes it seem less mass-produced and more special and just for you.

P.P.S. Am I the only one who thinks the evil face on the cover, which I'm guessing is supposed to be the brain from Camazotz, is entirely reminiscent of the Face of Bo? Except for the whole being imbued with menace thing?

"Watch out now,
Take care beware the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night
Beware of sadness

It can hit you, it can hurt you -
Make you sore and what is more,
That is not what you are here for"

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Knife in the Dark - Howard Shore

The Dragon of Despair
Firekeeper Saga, Book 3

Author: Jane Lindskold
Pages: 729
Publisher: Tor

Brief Summary:
Firekeeper and her friends are back, this time aiming to stop yet another foul plot of Melina's. After they left New Kelvin, the magical artifacts safely destroyed, Melina managed to marry The Healed One, a powerful figure in New Kelvin. Clearly, Melina with power cannot be a good thing, so the gang is sent to figure out what she is up to and, should it be bad for Hawk Haven (which it likely will be), how to put an end to it.

Review:
At this point, I am somewhat regretting having picked up free copies of the first five books in this series. Having done so, I feel compelled to read them all. Unfortunately, I am not any more enthused by this series than I was at the beginning, perhaps less so. For whatever reason, the characters and plots have never particularly interested in me.

My complaints here are similar to my complaints for the two previous books in the series. First of all, for an epic fantasy series, there is remarkably little action. Second of all, in addition to there being a dearth of action, romance lacks almost entirely as well. Without either of these, getting any real excitement going is tough. Not that there cannot be good books without these things, however, I do not think the writing and plotting are good enough to carry the reader without them in this case.

Speaking of romance, I am now three books into a six book series and there has been absolutely no romance, except for one mutual affection (upon which no action has been taken beyond talk), one unrequited crush, and some action for Melina, the bad guy. What the heck? This pretty much disproves one stereotype, the one that women are always more interested in romance than men. The Wheel of Time series has tons of romance in it, whereas, this one, penned by a woman, focuses instead on politics.

Two (maybe three, since, at that point, I might as well complete the series) books to go. I sure hope they get more interesting soon!

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Zen Brain - Nada Surf

Brain Boy Archives

Author: Herb Castle
Illustrators: Gil Kane, Frank Springer
Pages: 182
ARC Acquired from: Dark Horse via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Brain Boy is the code name for a young man imbued with special brain power, thanks to the car accident that killed his father and sent electricity through his pregnant mother. Recruited by a secret government agency, which masquerades as an organization for anthropologists, Brain Boy faces down a number of serious threats to the safety of mankind during the comics' six issues.

Review:
The comic was published during 1962 and the artwork is reminiscent of that of the original Superman comics (Gil Kane). This should give comic book readers some idea of what to expect from Brain Boy Archives. Of course, some things one never expects, like aliens that vaguely resemble gooey green cats trying to take over the world via the water supply. If someone tells you to swim in the lake, don't do it.

Brain Boy's mind powers permit him to do some cool things, like communicate telepathically with other telepaths, read minds, get people to do his bidding and even fly. His flight rather resembles that of a Dalek, creepily enough. For the most part, I found the Brain Boy comics pretty silly and not necessarily in a good way. His adventures include the aforementioned alien attack, taking on an evil dictator and battling a telepathic t-rex. For reals.

The most interesting thing about Brain Boy was the historical time period in which it was written and how that impacted the plot line. Unlike a lot of contemporary comics, the Cold War is neither the main plot line, nor is it ignored entirely. Instead, Castle created another country, Xochtan, which is ruled by the aforementioned evil dictator. Xochtan aims to take over the world via nefarious means, such as tricking the US and the Soviets into turning the Cold War hot. Given that the Xochtanese (?) are clearly of South American descent, I wonder if this is intended to be a comment on Castro's Cuba.

If you enjoy reading old comics, you will be thrilled to check out this brief run for a strange hero, even if it is pretty evident why the series did not last longer. Of course, the $50 price tag may make this a bit less tempting, or just encourage library usage!

"Super brain
Never scared of nothing"

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